Stuckey: How I’m Betting College Basketball Mid-Major Conference Tournament Futures

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Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Saint Louis Billikins players celebrate.

What a night of hoops on Tuesday. And to think it’s only March 3 with three conference tournaments already underway. Amazing.

We have 11 more conference tournament this week. I’m personally not getting in the way of Gonzaga or Loyola in the WCC or Missouri Valley. I also have no interest or real feel for which Dakota school will likely take that title.

I would have some interest in Bellarmine if it wasn’t coming off a recent COVID break before its last game against Liberty. The Knights will also presumably have to face a Lipscomb team that beat them twice early in the season.

Keep in mind that if Bellarmine gets to the conference title against Liberty, it will basically be the school’s Super Bowl since it can’t compete in the NCAA tournament as a new D-1 member. Regardless of the result of that potential game, Liberty would be going as the automatic qualifier from the A-Sun. Just some food for thought.

I also have no idea what to make of the NEC four team conference tourney this weekend. Saturday’s semifinals can go one of two ways.

If Wagner wins on Wednesday:

  • Mount Saint Mary’s at Wagner
  • Sacred Heart at Bryant

And if Merrimack beats Wagner:

  • Mount Saint Mary’s at Bryant
  • Sacred Heart at Wagner

Seems straightforward, right?

Well, we also don’t know as of now if Bryant will even be able to play due to COVID. If it can’t, Long Island would replace the Bulldogs.

That leaves us with six remaining conference tourneys that start this week that I have at least one bet for. (I will have another piece for my futures for the remaining conference tournaments early next week).

There are some teams I’m sticking to my guns on and others I’m taking a shot on based on potential COVID related uncertainty. Here’s some analysis for each tourney bet and their respective unit sizes. Let’s dig in.

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Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament 

Starts Mar. 3 in Richmond, VA

Since the start of the year, I’ve been a believer in this Saint Louis squad. After a promising start to the season, the Billikens had their season severely interrupted by COVID-19, which led to a pause in action of over a month. They had some ups and downs since resuming play as you might expect, but have finally started to look like themselves again.

I also like their draw. They are placed on the opposite side of Dayton, which has been their kryptonite over the past two seasons. I also like the way they match up with St. Bonaventure, which is likely their biggest hurdle before getting to the conference title game, which won’t be played until March 14 in Dayton, OH.

It’s worth noting that VCU and Richmond — the two hosts of the rounds leading up to the final — are both dealing with potential injuries. Grant Golden left Monday night’s game with an injury for Richmond. And both Bones Hyland (a potential first-round draft pick) and Vince Williams are currently listed as day-to-day with nagging injuries.

Target Price: Saint Louis 2-1 or better

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Ohio Valley Conference Tournament 

Starts Mar. 3 in Evansville, IN

You can check out my in-depth preview on this conference tournament. Basically, I think Belmont is vulnerable with a potentially limited Nick Muszynski, as the Bruins showed in losing their final two conference games with him out of the lineup after starting 18-0 in league play.

You can make a realistic case for any of the teams seeded two through six, but I decided to throw small darts on the two teams I think hold the most value: Austin Peay and Jacksonville State.

Target Price: Jacksonville State 12-1 or better | Austin Peay 15-1 or better

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Patriot League Tournament 

Starts Mar. 3 on campus sites

If you follow me on Twitter, you probably know where I’m going here as I’m a glutton for punishment. Yes, I threw a small bet in on Loyola Maryland, which advanced to the quarterfinals after Holy Cross pulled out of the tourney due to COVID-19 concerns.

Who will the Greyhounds face? Top-seeded Navy for the fourth time this season. Navy won all three regular season meetings, but Loyola did make things very interesting in the second half of both games last weekend. Navy has been dealing with some COVID issues, which could come into play here.

Maybe Loyola finally figures out how to handle Navy’s trapping in the half court. If Loyola can find a way to finally beat Navy, I really like its chances in the next round against either the undersized American or Army.

From a regression standpoint, Navy has been the luckiest team in the country, while Loyola has been the unluckiest by almost every measure. Hopefully, the regression monster graces us with his presence in Annapolis on Saturday.

Win that game and we’re in the final with a 33-1 shot. We do at least have the best player in the conference in our side in NBA prospect Santi Aldama.

Target Price: Loyola Maryland 25-1 or better

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Southern Conference Tournament 

Starts March 5 in Asheville, NC

Like Saint Louis, I’m sticking to my guns on Furman. The Paladins will start with VMI (coming off of a COVID pause) and then likely get Wofford for a third time this year.

They lost the first two meetings — one after leading by nine points with 10 to go and the other in the final seconds. I want that game and I’m sure they do too, especially considering they lost to Wofford in the conference tournament last year.

I think Furman is the clearly superior team and I don’t see their three-and-rim offense dropping a third straight time to Wofford. Although, the Terriers are a high-variance team with how three-point reliant they are.

If Furman finally bests Wofford, it would get top-seeded UNC Greensboro in the final. I personally think this particular Spartans team is severely overrated. Isaiah Miller is an outstanding defender and they have a unique style with their high-intensity, pressing defense.

However, that’s a tough style to play for three games in three days and Furman is excellent against the press with ball-handlers all over the court.

I’m going down with the ship.

Target Price: Furman +150 or better


Sun Belt Conference Tournament

Starts Friday, Mar. 5 in Pensacola, FL

Texas State won its first Sun Belt regular season title in program history by finishing 12-3 in conference play. The Bobcats only lost to one SBC team in Louisiana, which took three of four regular season meetings.

However, the Ragin’ Cajuns are actually on the other half of the bracket and also won all three of those games with a still healthy point guard in Brayan Au, who’s out for the year with an injury.

Despite its success, I’m actually looking to take on Texas State in what should be one of the most wide-open conference tournaments. The Bobcats play extremely slow (353rd in Adjusted Tempo), so teams can certainly hang around during droughts. They’ve also shot a ridiculous 41.0% from beyond the arc during conference play. That’s not sustainable in my book, so the regression monster could get them at the wrong time in postseason play.

So, which longer shot do I want to take a shot on in Texas State’s half of the bracket. Well, not Little Rock, which is in free fall mode after starting point guard Markquis Nowell. I also have no interest in Troy. That leaves Appalachian State and UT-Arlington.

The Mountaineers intrigue me — they have the talent and are a positive regression candidate — but I’m not sure they have the depth to win four games in four days, especially since starting junior center James Lewis went down with an injury last week.

He missed Saturday’s game and his status is unknown as of now. They don’t have a deep team overall and fatigue is even more of a question since App State had a COVID break over the first three weeks of February.

That leaves UT-Arlington almost by default, but the Mavericks do have excellent depth for a run of four games in four days. They also are a much better team (especially defensively) since junior wing David Azore returned to the lineup for the final three games. Keep in mind this is also a complete dart for a small investment.

I also think Georgia State has a fairly easy path up top, but I don’t see any value in backing the Panthers.

Target Price: UT-Arlington 20-1 or better


Colonial Athletic Association Conference Tournament 

Starts Mar. 6 in Harrisonburg, VA

The tourney was moved from Washington D.C. to Harrisonburg, VA as a result of COVID. That does favor No. 1 seed James Madison, which will get to play on its home home court.

However, the Dukes recently lost their best player, and likely CAA Player of the Year, Matt Lewis, for the season to injury. They are now much more vulnerable than they were a week ago.

Elsewhere, the rest of the conference is an absolute mess. The following teams ended the regular season on pause due to covid protocols:

  • No. 2 seed Northeastern (last played Feb. 17)
  • No. 3 seed Charleston. (last played Feb. 20)
  • No. 4 seed Hofstra (last played Feb. 14)
  • No. 5 seed Delaware (last played Jan. 31)
  • No. 9 seed Towson (last played Feb. 14)

In summary, the No. 1 seed lost its best player before the season finale and the No. 2-5 seeds (and No. 9) ended the year on a covid pause.

Also, it doesn’t end there. No. 7 seed William and Mary hasn’t played since Feb. 22 when it returned from its own covid break. And No. 10 seed UNC Wilmington returned for the first time in a month last weekend after its covid pause with a severely shorthanded roster.

So, that leaves only two teams in a semi-normal state right now: Elon and Drexel. Those are the two teams I’m backing in a tournament that could be extremely chaotic with who knows how many cancellations.

Drexel was actually my preseason pick to win a wide-open CAA that saw severe roster attrition due to graduation after last year. The Dragons have had a very disappointing campaign, but did close out the season with a win at JMU to lock up one of the last remaining bye.

They are a team with a lot of continuity and a star player in Cam Wynter. They’re also in the bottom half of the draw with four other teams that have major potential covid issues.

On the top half of the draw, Elon has a much tougher task, needing to win four games in four days. The Phoenix dealt with their own covid issues earlier in conference play then struggled in their initial return before really finding their game to close the year out on a four-game winning streak. It’s a very complex offense that requires rhythm and timing, which they seem to have found.

I also like throwing a dart on a team that plays a high-variance style like Elon, which does shoot a high frequency of three-pointers (36th nationally). It will start out favored over Towson (coming off a covid break) before then facing the home Dukes. If they can find a way to pull off an upset, we may have found something here.

And don’t count out cancellations this coming weekend. I expect some chaos.

Target Price: Drexel 3-1 or better, Elon 25-1 or better

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Futures Summary

  • Saint Louis +230 to win A-10 (1 unit)
  • Furman +160 to win Southern (1 unit)
  • Drexel +300 to win Colonial (0.45 units)
  • Jacksonville State 14-1 to win OVC (0.25 units)
  • Austin Peay 20-1 to win OVC (0.25 units)
  • Loyola Maryland 33-1 to win Patriot League (0.1 units)
  • Elon 30-1 to win Colonial (0.1 units)
  • Texas-Arlington 25-1 to win Sun Belt (0.1 units)

I risked 3.25 units on eight total wagers, which consist of two full unit plays, one 0.45-unit play and five long shots.

Obviously, the  primary goal is to get Saint Louis and Furman to the window. If that’s the case, I profit 2.65 units even if all six other bets lose. But hopefully at least one of them can give us a thrill.

Lastly, while I am trying to take advantage of some uncertainty unique to this season, but that means there’s just a lot of uncertainty, so please invest responsibly. If you can’t stomach 0-9, which is certainly a possibility, then pick and choose one or two that appeal to you.

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